Developer Interview: Crowned Daemon Studios

An interview with the development team at Crowned Daemon Studios, creators of the survival horror game FREAK. Currently on Steam Greenlight

header int

I re­cent­ly had the chance to speak with Crowed Daemon Studios, cre­ators of the game FREAK, to talk about the chal­lenges of game de­vel­op­ment, the en­vi­ron­ment in the games in­dus­try and per­ils of be­ing a sen­tient autis­tic zom­bie in 2D.

First things first, in­tro­duce your­selves and tell us a lit­tle about your in­volve­ment with the de­vel­op­ment of FREAK.

Nadia: Hi I’m Nadia and I’m in charge of tak­ing every­thing I’m told to do and mak­ing it pret­ty, AKA the art di­rec­tor.

Jenn: I’m Jenn and I sort of have a lot of tiny roles. I typ­i­cal­ly say I’m a pro­duc­er but I’m also PR di­rec­tor, a ju­nior artist, co-writer and sound artist.

Chris: My name is Chris, I’m the lead de­sign­er, lev­el de­sign­er, and head writer for FREAK.

How did Crowned Daemon come to­geth­er as a team? Did you all wake up one day and were like “Hey I know! Let’s make games!”

Chris: We’d all been work­ing to­geth­er on var­i­ous projects for about five years, with some of us work­ing to­geth­er for up to sev­en or twelve years. We’re all very close-knit, so when I did de­cide to make games, the choice for who to work with was ob­vi­ous.

What parts of the game are you most proud of so far?

 I’m in love with the cut scenes, most­ly. Nadia and I put a lot of time and ef­fort into those and I think it re­al­ly pays off. Honestly though, I re­al­ly like how every­thing is com­ing along.

Nadia: I also re­al­ly like the cutscenes be­cause they [sic] ro­to­scope style is fair­ly unique for games and not some­thing you see uti­lized of­ten. It also fits very well with the 80s psy­che­del­ic theme that the mu­sic is in.

Chris: Even in its ear­ly stages, I love the work that our artists have put into the cin­e­mat­ics and game as­sets. Trying to fig­ure out how best to make the art work in the style of game we’re at­tempt­ing has been chal­leng­ing but I’m still im­pressed with every­thing that they’ve man­aged so far. The cin­e­mat­ics es­pe­cial­ly are in­cred­i­ble, es­pe­cial­ly af­ter the amount of time it takes to make them, to fi­nal­ly see the end re­sult makes it all worth it.

The amount of work that’s gone into the cod­ing of the game is also quite some­thing. Our pro­gram­mers have tak­en on a lot of work to get our game ready for our demo, and giv­en the win­dow of time we need­ed to have things done in they’ve per­formed ex­treme­ly well. There’s a lot of com­pli­cat­ed sys­tems in our game.

Your game [FREAK] has an autis­tic sen­tient zom­bie as a lead char­ac­ter, was this a de­lib­er­ate choice from day one or did the char­ac­ter evolve dur­ing de­vel­op­ment?

Chris: It was a choice from day one. There aren’t a lot of autis­tic char­ac­ters in games, and only one of them (to my aware­ness) is male, and none of them are main char­ac­ters. Making Tinker a part-zombie was also a very con­scious de­ci­sion on our part, as it plays a part in sub­vert­ing ex­pec­ta­tions of autis­tic peo­ple in me­dia (es­pe­cial­ly games me­dia) hav­ing oth­er­world­ly pow­ers.

Recently there was some con­tro­ver­sy and seem­ing hys­te­ria about com­ments made by in­dus­try vet­er­an Ken Levine about autis­tic char­ac­ters. Do you wor­ry about the po­ten­tial back­lash that try­ing to cre­ate cer­tain types of char­ac­ter can bring?

Jenn: It’s def­i­nite­ly a con­cern that peo­ple will not like spe­cif­ic char­ac­ters or that there might be back­lash be­cause of the way they are por­trayed, but in the end we’re very se­ri­ous about cre­at­ing re­al­is­tic and in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters who com­pli­ment the game. We could choose to ag­o­nize about re­ac­tions to them and wa­ter down our game as a re­sult but in the end that would be a dis­ser­vice to peo­ple who play the game and peo­ple who are like those char­ac­ters in re­al­i­ty.

Chris: I would say that I’m wary, not wor­ried. So far the re­ac­tion has been pos­i­tive. Sure there are some peo­ple who have snick­ered at the idea or raised an eye­brow, but this is not dis­cour­ag­ing to us at all. Those re­ac­tions are why we felt this game had to be made with the char­ac­ters it has.  Autism is wide­ly mis­rep­re­sent­ed and mis­un­der­stood in the me­dia, and the only way that’s go­ing to change is if peo­ple step for­ward and start speak­ing for them­selves from their own ex­pe­ri­ences. This also ap­plies to oth­er char­ac­ters and cre­ators from all va­ri­ety of back­grounds.

As to Ken Levine specif­i­cal­ly, I per­son­al­ly think the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing his re­marks was overblown and his re­marks twist­ed to re­flect an opin­ion he doesn’t ac­tu­al­ly hold. If peo­ple in gam­ing want to have a gen­uine con­ver­sa­tion or un­der­stand­ing about peo­ple with autism, the first thing they’re go­ing to have to do is ac­knowl­edge that not all peo­ple with autism are nec­es­sar­i­ly good peo­ple, just like not all peo­ple of any group are in­her­ent­ly good. Autistic peo­ple, like any oth­er, have flaws, moral fail­ings, and make bad choic­es. Denying the abil­i­ty of a group of peo­ple to do bad makes any good they do mean­ing­less. I have the dis­tinct feel­ing this is go­ing to be a top­ic that comes up of­ten in dis­cus­sion of our game lead­ing into its re­lease as well as af­ter­wards, but that is where we stand on the is­sue.

Do you think it is eas­i­er or hard­er to make the kind of game you want to than it was five years ago?

Chris: Undeniably eas­i­er. While we’ve only been in the busi­ness of mak­ing games for a short time, all the things we rely on to make, mar­ket, and dis­trib­ute our game have been re­cent phe­nom­e­non. It has nev­er been eas­i­er to make a game, and with­out this ease I don’t think we could have got­ten Freak even this far.

How use­ful have you found in­dus­try bod­ies like the IGDA in fa­cil­i­tat­ing de­vel­op­ment? Would you like to see a bet­ter sup­port net­work for de­vel­op­ers?

Chris: I’ve had a mixed ex­pe­ri­ence with the IGDA. On one hand, I at­tend­ed one of their mee­tups once and met a lot of nice gamedev peo­ple in my area, which was nice and helped me make a lot of in­dus­try con­tacts (and a signed game poster, which was cool). On the oth­er hand the IGDA en­dorsed a block bot which list­ed me as a ha­rass­er and still has yet to ad­e­quate­ly apol­o­gize to my­self and oth­er de­vel­op­ers who have been put onto this list.

CDVNO6xUUAAGHs_Looking at FREAK, the game has some rather strik­ing an­i­mat­ed se­quences. How chal­leng­ing has achiev­ing these been as a small stu­dio been?

Nadia: Not gonna lie, it has been my biggest chal­lenge as an artist so far. It’s a labour of love, but the labour is al­ways there. I am the only one draw­ing the frames, which leads to long days and few breaks to make sure I can de­liv­er qual­i­ty as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. That’s the re­al­i­ty of an­i­ma­tion though, but when you’re work­ing on such a small team it can get pret­ty over­whelm­ing. I think peo­ple see an­i­ma­tion and for­get that, es­pe­cial­ly in 2d, there are peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for ever line, colour and ef­fect tak­ing place. For ex­am­ple, I am cur­rent­ly draw­ing a scene at 24fps. That is 24 draw­ings for every sec­ond of footage you see. It makes for some pret­ty sweet move­ment, but damn is it tax­ing.

Jenn: The an­i­mat­ed se­quences are def­i­nite­ly time con­sum­ing. For those who aren’t fa­mil­iar with ro­to­scop­ing, it’s ba­si­cal­ly when you draw over video cap­tured footage, which is what gives it that hy­per re­al­is­tic move­ment that I think a lot of peo­ple are im­pressed by. Even this de­scrip­tion is a lit­tle mis­lead­ing though, be­cause when Nadia draws the frames she isn’t just “trac­ing”, she’s trans­lat­ing the im­ages into the style used for the video game as well.

Do you think Zombies have been over­done as a game en­e­my or will they al­ways be fun to smush?

Chris: I don’t think peo­ple will ever get sick of zom­bies as a whole so long as the games are well-designed and do enough to stand out from the crowd, just like any oth­er game genre. I think the over­sat­u­ra­tion peo­ple de­scribe re­volv­ing around zom­bie me­dia is the fact that zom­bie me­dia of all kinds has al­ways been cheap to pro­duce in movies and TV, and the same holds true for games. With cheap­ness to pro­duce comes a lot of stuff that is poor qual­i­ty, which can lead to a lot of peo­ple be­ing turned away from the genre as a whole just like a lot of peo­ple prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to jump into a pool with a lot of leaves and scum on the top. I think there will al­ways be peo­ple will­ing to take that plunge though, and those who do jump in and find trea­sure at the bot­tom will sure­ly bring it up for oth­ers to see.

Jenn: I can see why peo­ple say that zom­bies are over­done but hon­est­ly they’re al­ways go­ing to be a fun en­e­my. They’re pret­ty unique in that you can have var­ied sto­ries about how they came about and how they act. Zombie games aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly all go­ing to be the same just be­cause zom­bies are in­volved.

Nadia: Saying zom­bies are over­done is like say­ing hu­mans are over­done. There is al­ways go­ing to be a mar­ket for zom­bies, even in a sat­u­rat­ed mar­ket. Zombies are fun be­cause, at least in my opin­ion, hor­ror and the oc­cult are fun. Unlike in­tel­li­gent en­e­mies zom­bies have no side. They aren’t fight­ing for a cause; they don’t care who you are or what you’ve done. And in some cas­es don’t even have a rea­son for want­i­ng to tear your face off. That is freak­ing ter­ri­fy­ing. It’s be­yond even an­i­mal­is­tic needs and de­sire. That is what makes them so fun, be­cause your pri­ma­ry goal around them is sim­ply to sur­vive.

Is Crowned Daemon a full time job or does the team have day-jobs to pay the bills?

Chris: We cur­rent­ly have a mix of both, there are some in­di­vid­u­als who need to be work­ing full time on the game for us to move for­ward at all and every­one else is part time. It’s our hope that in the fu­ture we’ll be able to have every­one work­ing full time for the com­pa­ny.

There has been mixed opin­ion about [Valve’s] Greenlight since its in­cep­tion. How do you feel about the process of get­ting a game on steam?

Chris: I think that the val­ue the green­light sys­tem of­fers to in­die de­vel­op­ers can­not be over­stat­ed. I think Steam has done a good job of try­ing to stop de­vel­op­ers from ma­nip­u­lat­ing the sys­tem, such as when groups of de­vel­op­ers were get­ting to­geth­er and agree­ing to up-vote each other’s games en masse. That said, it does seem like to make the most of Greenlight you need to have a fan­base go­ing in, which de­feats the pur­pose of Greenlight be­ing used as a tool to dis­cov­er games. My guess is this is be­cause of Greenlight’s rep­u­ta­tion of hav­ing lots of low-quality games on dis­play, which dis­cour­ages some peo­ple from both­er­ing to pe­ruse Greenlight un­less the game goes vi­ral, which isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a guar­an­tee of the game’s qual­i­ties or mer­its.

I know Steam has been plan­ning on over­haul­ing the sys­tem, so I don’t know if they in­tend to try to fix these prob­lems in the fu­ture. In the mean­time I still be­lieve that Greenlight, de­spite its faults, is in­valu­able to de­vel­op­ers and shouldn’t be writ­ten off en­tire­ly.

Last of all, where can we find each of you and where can we find info on your projects? Shill away. 

Jenn: Our com­pa­ny web­site is in the process of be­ing com­plete­ly over­hauled right now, but can still be ac­cessed at . We al­ways love more fol­low­ers on Facebook and Twitter. Lastly, if you feel like you might like to play our game in the fu­ture and you like what you see, please help us get green­lit on Steam Greenlight here.

If you want to chat with me per­son­al­ly, you can reach me at @RobotLamia on twit­ter, al­though I should warn you that I’m ac­tu­al­ly pret­ty shy out­side of busi­ness sit­u­a­tions! If you want to talk busi­ness, you can reach me di­rect­ly at “ .”

Chris: If you want to talk to me, my twit­ter is @Daemonpro if you want to do small talk. For more se­ri­ous con­ver­sa­tions you’d be best suit­ed reach­ing out to me at so that we’re not lim­it­ed to 140 char­ac­ters.

Nadia: If you want to chat you can reach out to me on twit­ter @MissTaxidermy. To see my art I have my port­fo­lio here and my tum­blr.

A big thanks to the folks at Crowned Daemon for this en­light­en­ing in­ter­view. Shown be­low is an ear­ly al­pha game­play trail­er for FREAK, cur­rent­ly on Greenlight


(Disclosure: Members of SuperNerdLand do fol­low and com­mu­ni­cate with some of Crowned Daemon Studios team mem­bers over so­cial me­dia, but nei­ther the au­thor nor SuperNerdLand are fi­nan­cial­ly or pro­fes­sion­al­ly af­fil­i­at­ed with Crowned Daemon stu­dios. This in­ter­view was sought out of in­ter­est in the project and re­spect for the team.) 

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent be­low.
John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in en­gi­neer­ing. He writes long-form ed­i­to­r­i­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games me­dia and in­ter­net cul­ture. He also does the oc­ca­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly col­umn about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our in­ter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven me­dia and sus­pi­cious of un­ac­cou­table au­thor­i­ty but al­ways hope­ful for change.
Scroll to top